Washington Insider -- Thursday

New Smarter Weather Model Planned

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Next US-China Trade Talks Set

Hours after National Economic Council chief Larry Kudlow said things were close in terms of announcing the next round of in-person U.S.-China trade talks, the White House said the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will head to Beijing for meetings that start April 30.

A team led by Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will then come to Washington May 8 to continue those discussions.

Next week’s talks in Beijing will cover forced technology transfer, non-tariff barriers, enforcement and purchases, in addition to other topics.

A date for a signing summit between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping has not yet been set, but contacts note President Trump has an opening in his schedule between a trip to Japan on May 25-28 and a trip to the United Kingdom and France on June 3-6.

As for the U.S.-China talks, Kudlow said in Washington on Tuesday, "We are not there yet, but we have made a heck of a lot of progress,” Kudlow said in response to questions from reporters. “We have come further and deeper, broader, larger-scale than anything in the history of U.S.-China trade.”

What is still being worked on Kudlow said, are "so-called structural issues, technology transfers. Ownership enforcement is absolutely crucial. Lowering barriers to buy and sell agriculture and industrial commodities. It is all on the table.”

Pennsylvania Biofuel Company Owners Found Guilty Of Fraud and Conspiracy

A jury found Ben Wootton, of Enola, Pennsylvania, and Race Miner, of Buena Vista, Colorado, guilty of one count of conspiracy to make false statements to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), six counts of making false statements to the EPA, one count of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and one count of aiding and assisting in the filing of a false claim with the IRS, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Wootton and Miner co-owned and operated Keystone Biofuels and from August 2009 through September 2013, Wootton and Miner participated in a conspiracy to fraudulently generate renewable fuel credits, identified by renewable identification numbers (RINs) on Keystone fuel and, through January 2012, to fraudulently claim tax refunds based on the Biodiesel Mixture Tax Credit.

DOJ said it is estimated that over $10 million was generated from the fraudulent RIN sales, and the total tax loss to the government resulting from the defendants’ conduct is approximately $4.15 million.

Washington Insider: New Smarter Weather Model Planned

The Washington Post is reporting this week that the Trump Administration is pushing to develop “the world’s smartest weather forecasting model.” The context is dramatic, it says — and refers to the October 2012 event when the European weather prediction model beat its American counterpart in forecasting Hurricane Sandy’s hard left turn into the U.S. coastline. “What scientists had known for years — that the European forecast model was superior to the American one — "caught the attention of the U.S. public and Congress.”

Since then, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with funding support from Congress, has worked hard to improve the American model. It has boosted its computing power, improved the way it brings in data, and enhanced how it simulates weather systems at small scales. Yet, more than six years later, it still trails the European model in overall accuracy.

Neil Jacobs, the acting head of NOAA and a meteorologist, is committed to closing the gap between the models, the Post says. Since being appointed by the administration, he has made one of his top priorities installing a process that will “allow U.S. forecast modeling to reach its potential and become world-class.”

In its Fiscal Year 2020 budget request, NOAA has proposed the establishment of the Earth Prediction Innovation Center at a cost of $15 million which it says “will advance U.S. weather modeling and reclaim international leadership in the area of numerical weather prediction.”

In fact, Jacobs said he “blamed recent U.S. modeling shortfalls on a lack of research investment,” and that the United States now spends about the same amount operating its flagship model, the Global Forecast System, as it does on research to improve it. By contrast, the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts spends roughly five times as much on research. Jacobs said he’d like to see NOAA keep pace, and is counting on EPIC for that research.

In the past, it has been difficult for the outside research partners to test, evaluate and provide feedback on the American modeling system but EPIC hopes to provide the framework for a “community modeling” effort. This, Jacobs said, will break down the barrier between NOAA’s modeling and the outside world and accelerate model development.

The code for the new system is to be open-source and available to anyone. EPIC will provide training and support so outside scientists can become comfortable running and adapting the model for their research.

“My hope is that when we throw this code out there, university researchers, principal investigators, post-docs and industry scientists will download the code and start to run it,” Jacobs said. “They’ll help debug [the model], improve its physics and data assimilation, and we’ll benefit from their research.”

Jacobs admitted that this community approach will present challenges and notes that the current version of the code isn’t user-friendly and will need to be made more accessible and “hardware agnostic” to run on different systems.

But he was upbeat about its potential benefits, saying EPIC would use cloud computing so multiple users could run the model simultaneously. In the past, bottlenecks could arise because the model was operating in a single computing environment.

If users identify a model error, “we’ll have the ability to stand up parallel versions of the model, do tests and determine month in and month out how proposed updates improve the situation,” Jacobs said.

Operating the model in the cloud, he stressed, will offer both NOAA and its users tremendous flexibility considering the increasing number of vendors and decreasing costs for cloud computing.

As proposed, EPIC will be a virtual center with no physical location but operated from existing NOAA modeling hubs. Jacobs said he expects funding to support work on the model through contracts and grants awarded to partners in academia and research labs.

Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington and longtime critic of how NOAA has managed its modeling efforts, wrote in a blog post that he is “really optimistic” about EPIC.

“Done correctly, EPIC could lead to a much more effective and coordinated approach to developing a new U.S. global modeling capability,” he wrote. “Will the U.S. FINALLY organize itself properly to regain leadership in global numerical weather prediction? Time will tell. But I am more optimistic today than I have been in years.”

The administration’s 2020 proposed budget for NOAA, including support for EPIC, is now in the hands of Congress, the Post said.

As climate change intensifies, the ag industry will become increasingly dependent on more accurate and precise weather forecasts to identify and measure the shrinking time windows for field operations. The need for improved forecasts has been well known for some time and producers should watch the current NOAA budget discussions closely as they proceed, Washington Insider believes.

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